Friday, August 24, 2012

Previewing Non-Conference: UMass

Michigan has a much different opponent on Sept. 15th.  This year the MAC conference welcomes a new school, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen, as it will be replacing Temple. I know some people might be scratching their heads, wondering why. It's about money. Scheduling some of the bigger name teams means revenue, and revenue keeps the ball rolling.  The former Colonial Athletic Association school decided to move into the FBS, and will have their home games played at Gillette Stadium for 2012 and 2013 while theirs is being renovated. I have to wonder what the mindset of the team will be when they have to play their home games an hour and a half away from home.

2011 Record: 5-6 (3-5)
Head Coach: Charley Molnar
Returning Starters: 15 (6 offense, 9 defense)

So ex-offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Charley Molnar, is taking the reins of this team. Over the course of the season, they will be attempting to switch to a spread offense, and doing away with the pro-style attack they've used in the last few years. Non-conference games against Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, and Vanderbilt are not going to be easy.

Junior quarterback Kellen Pagel returns to the MAC after starting his career at Bowling Green, where he couldn’t earn consistent playing time in two seasons. He battled injuries and inconsistency in his first year starting at UMass and will have to improve if he wants to remain the starter. Last season he threw for 1,725 yds, 9 TDs and 9 INTs. He will have to improve considerably to score any points this season. especially with a 57.3 completion rate. Pagel will be backed up by pro-style quarterbacks Brandon Hill and Mike Wegzyn.

Guess who they have at running back? That's right---5th yr transfer Mike Cox, formerly of Michigan. He saw most of his playing time at Michigan against Delaware State in 2009.  He was strapped with injuries for much of his career. Senior Alan Williams and sophomore Jordan Broadnax impressed the new coaching staff in the spring. Jamar Smith also figures to be in the mix, and he could work hard enough to earn the starting job. Beyond that is just space.

Marken Michel is the only wide receiver with more than one career reception (three) as the Minutemen will be counting on newcomers to make immediate contributions. Redshirt freshman tight end Brandon Howard looked like a favorite target for Pagel in the spring. Chase Danska should help, but he only had one catch lasst year, and freshman wideout Derek Beck is going to play a lot and should make an impact. Deion Walker, Tajan Sharpe, and Rob Branchflower should also see some action.

The biggest strength for UMass is the offensive line. Senior left guard Malcom Speller is the only new addition to the starting front line which is big, experienced, and backed up well.  They did lose their best offensive lineman in Josh Samuda, but with 4 returners, this should be the unit that carries the offense and if the Minutemen are lucky, will carry Cox as well.

Now, the defense is what the offense is not. Productive. However, they are bringing in a brand new coordinator.  The Minutemen allowed 5.2 yards per play and 367.0 yards per game, and they return almost everybody of importance. However, they will be moving back to the 4-3 defense after one year of the 3-4. Perry McIntyre and outside backers like Chad Hunte and D.J. Adeoba should be able to flow to the ball reasonably well with a well-sized line in front of them. Six of the top seven return up front, including junior end Brandon Potvin (4.5 tackles for loss).

Senior safety Darren Thellen, who had five interceptions and 68 tackles and is just one of the four starters that return.  The secondary should be solid to say the least. Junior Antoine Tharpe is a three year starter at cornerback and he should be solid.  The defensive backfield will have some big challenges, especially with the more competent offenses they will face, but overall, it should be a good unit.

2012 outlook: Most games will be rough this season. Any school would have a tough time not playing at "home", in their first year in the MAC conference, much less the FBS. The skill position players are extremely thin at depth, and while Molnar is known for his good offenses, that probably won't translate over into 2012. With it being their first season in the FBS, they are ineligible to play in a bowl or the MAC championship. Many games will end in a blowout, but at least they'll receive good money for having the schedule that they do.

Massachusetts Predictions:
Record: 1-11
Ability To Compete With Top Teams: None
Upset Status: None
Bowl Status: None (ineligible)

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